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Planetary Summit

A historic landmark in the understanding of and engagement with the topic of the Planetary

In November 2024, the Berggruen Institute will host a two-day public event at our newly opened European headquarters in Venice’s Palazzo Diedo, focused on the theme of The Planetary. The aim is to bring together key thinkers and doers from around the world to discuss the significance of this important new concept, and to stage a dialog among them in concert with the Institute’s own cadre of researchers and writers. The ambition is for this conference to serve as a historic landmark in the understanding of and engagement with the topic of the Planetary by making clear the connections between the scientific, philosophical and political dimensions of the Planetary. The Planetary precedes us and exceeds us but does not exclude us. To the Berggruen Institute, the Planetary does not represent some ineffable entanglement revealed by the subtraction of global infrastructures or by the rejection of technoscientific reason and its related epistemologies. On the contrary, the Planetary includes human rationality as a critically important component of the work that our planet does through various forms of philosophy, culture, science and engineering. Indeed the contemporary secular concept of the Planetary – drawing together ideas from geology, history, biology, meteorology, astronomy, and more – represents a conceptual accomplishment of those forms of reason. The concept of the Planetary thus represents at once a scientific breakthrough, a philosophical event, and a political challenge and imperative.

In the first instance, the Planetary as a scientific concept focuses on the Earth as an intricate system of interlaced ecosystems, with myriad layers of integration between various biogeochemical systems and living beings – both human and non-human. Drawing especially on earth system science and systems biology, this holistic understanding is being enabled by new planetary-scale technologies of perception – a rapidly maturing technosphere of sensors, networks, and supercomputers that collectively are rendering the planetary system increasingly visible, comprehensible, and foreseeable. This recently-evolved smart exoskeleton, a distributed sensory organ and cognitive layer, is creating an unprecedented form of planetary sapience.

As a philosophical event, the Planetary represents a post-anthropocentric performance of ontological and epistemic humility. It acknowledges not only that humans are not fundamentally different or separate from ‘nature’ but also that we are only beginning to understand the complexities of our interdependencies with planetary systems. If Copernicus’s heliocentrism represented the First Great Decentering, displacing the Earth from the center of the heavens, and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection the Second Great Decentering, this time of God as the intentional maker of all creatures, then the emergence of the concept of the Planetary represents the Third Great Decentering, and the one that hits closest to home, supplanting the figure of the human as the measure and master of all things. We call this recognition the condition of planetarity.

Finally, this emergent understanding of the Planetary and the human represents a political challenge and imperative. To date, most political efforts to create shared futures have centered on the rights-bearing individual, their embeddedness in particular nation-states, and the multilateral member state institutions that have been erected to coordinate between states. This institutional architecture has proven itself structurally incapable of addressing planetary challenges such as climate change, pandemic risk, biodiversity loss, space junk, or oceanic plastics, all of which are driven by human activities, but which do not respect modernity’s traditional, anthropocentric political and social constructs. To address such ‘problems without passports’ we need fundamentally new governing institutions and modalities – in other words, a new form of planetary governance.

The Berggruen Institute has been working on questions of the Planetary in various registers, developing such categories as technologies of perception (Claire Webb), planetary sapience (Benjamin Bratton), planetary automation (Stephanie Sherman), the condition of planetarity (Nils Gilman), planetary subsidiarity (Jonathan Blake), planetary realism (Nathan Gardels), symbiotic co-becoming (Song Bing), planetary temporalities (Niccolò Milanese), planetary metaphysics (Boris Shoshitaishvili), planetary constituents (Dawn Nakagawa and Laura Ryan), and Europe as a planetary laboratory (Lorenzo Marsili). These perspectives will be published in a forthcoming volume by the Berggruen Press.

The Planetary offers a framing that invites a deepening understanding of the planet and our embeddedness in it, as well as our emerging ability to shape it via new technologies of governance. The Planetary Summit will provide a singular moment for collective discussion of the dynamic new scientific, philosophical, and political possibilities opened by this conceptual breakthrough.

Confirmed speakers for the conference include Rosi Braidotti, Rana Dasgupta, Sanna Marin, Achille Mbembe, Sir Martin Rees, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Zhao Tingyang, Sara Walker, Ngaire Woods, and Juichi Yamagiwa.

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